Digital Changeling

August 23, 2014

Gamers, You Disappoint Me

Filed under: Feminism,Games,Racial Equality,Sad — Eva @ 11:44 am

Right before GenCon this article was published on Tor. I know the person who wrote it and he spends a lot of time doing outreach to the gaming community on race.

I was deeply disappointed to see that several people have taken this article as some sort of personal affront… including at least one person who I had a lot of respect for because of her work on advancing feminism in gaming circles.

Folks, I appreciate the knee jerk reaction that many of you feel. There aren’t a huge number of people of color attending GenCon (this isn’t up for debate, we white people currently far outnumber them), but the number has been growing. I understand why as a white person it is easy to see that and think “well the problem is slowly solving itself, I’m sure it’s fine.” And then get upset when someone calls gamer culture out about the topic.

I think the important things to remember are: 1) We do not live in a magical post racial society. Sorry, we just don’t (this also isn’t up for debate). I wish we did, but no. (I mean come on, this is not a subtle problem!) And 2) If you are not a person of color it’s harder to see the problem. The smaller signs that show up for white people are easy to forget as “unimportant” because we’ve been trained to see the status quo as ok.

When people bring up race in gaming, the first thing that comes to my mind is the many marginal experiences I’ve had as a white woman in gaming. Like the year when my husband came back from a WWII supers game and told me how extremely uncomfortable he was with one of the other players playing an Asian-American hero as a blatant Asian stereotype. Or how I’ve only been offered an African-American character at a con once, for a demo of Steal Away Jordan… and how acutely uncomfortable I was playing that demo and watching one of my white male friends try to behave as if his white-male privilege still existed in a setting where it did not. Or how this year at GenCon I was asked to play an overtly racist character in a historical setting… at a table with a player of color. Or when I wrote a LARP with an Indian immigrant character (who was a highly educated doctor and prided himself in his correct English) and I got to watch a player play him with an Indian accent consisting of mangled, broken English. Or how every con I wince when I see white people dressed up as Drow in full black-face makeup.

I could go on… this stuff happens and it’s awkward and uncomfortable even for white people.

I’m not asking anyone to jump up and become a crusader for people of color in gaming. I’m asking that we give people like A.A. George the benefit of the doubt when they come to us and tell us that there’s a problem. I’m asking that we pay attention to things happening at future cons and remember the marginal and creepy stuff that we see.

I’m also asking that people recognize that “racist behavior” and “behavior that makes people of color uncomfortable” are not the same as saying “gamers are racist.” Most gamers are not overtly racist nor are they trying to be horrible to people of other races. It’s easy to do something that hurts others because it’s a common thing in the mainstream (and as previously stated, the mainstream is not post racial!), without realizing that what you’re doing is hurtful.

It feels super easy to write a con-game with all white characters (I’m white, I know what that life experience is like and no one will yell at me for messing it up!), but when the vast majority of games do that it means that there are few minority characters available. Their stories aren’t told (some of which are quite interesting!) and we don’t have the opportunity to develop empathy for people who are different than ourselves by playing them. This mirrors an unfortunate trend in media, where we have few to no darker skinned actors to watch, even though non-white people make up a very sizable portion of the population in the US.

I’m not saying that people who write all white PCs for a con game are being racist. I don’t think they are. I’m saying that it’s easy to go with the way things have always been and it’s hard to include people who aren’t like you. It takes work and forethought. It requires us to care about an issue that probably hasn’t been important in our lives.

Again, I’m not asking people to leap up and start doing this work. All I want is for us to be more open minded to understanding there is a problem. To take time to see the problem and be patient with people who are complaining about it. I am especially asking that feminists in gaming try to be understanding as we’ve suffered similar ills because of gender, and have every reason to empathize.

Gaming is not a utopia. None of us live in a utopia. We can make gaming a better and more accepting place for everyone by working on the problems that the culture has. If we ignore the problems they aren’t going to magically get better on their own.

If you don’t see the problems, that’s ok. You don’t need to become a Super Justice Warrior to be a good person, just be nice to people who do.

June 4, 2013

Why is the spectre of rape invisible?

Filed under: Feminism,Sad — Eva @ 11:36 pm

When I was in my first year of high school I remember clearly having the teachers quote the “one in six women is raped” statistic to us. They had us seated at grouped sets of five or six desks and the teacher did the whole “look around to the people in your group… one of you is likely to be raped” that you hear about. I’m not sure if they expected that to make it more real for us or what they expected us to do about it. No one wants to be a statistic.

The first time that I had a friend tell me about being raped was in middle school. She wasn’t a particularly close friend, just another outcast who had no one else she could sit with at lunch. But people get lonely and in retrospect I think she felt that terrible pressure to talk about an experience that she desperately needed therapy for. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t even really understand what she was sharing with me and I had no idea how to help her. All I could do was listen.

I grew up in a happy home, was never abused or mistreated… and until that point, rape had no reality beyond the “scary thing” that happened off screen on TV or in backstories in books. After that, I’d been given a different narrative: one where the heros don’t help the innocent in time, terrible things happens just because terrible things happen, and then the victim had to live with the consequences.

Since then I’ve had three other people tell me the stories of how they were raped. Every story was different and terrible in it’s own way, and I’m not sure I was more help to these people, all of whom I care about deeply, than I was to that first lost girl. I could listen, and with each story the spectre of rape became more real to me.

Most of my friends are middle class with college degrees. I can’t fool myself anymore with the lie that rape is a thing that only happens to “other people.”

I asked my husband recently, “how many people have told you about being raped?” He looked at me a bit confused and replied, “None.” That was when I realized that not everyone hears these stories. Unless a rape strikes those few people who are the closest to them… how can I blame my peers for not seeing the spectre as looming or terrible? Why would it feel real at all? Maybe for some people rape feels more like far off lightning, hitting people who happen to stand stupidly on golf courses during rain storms, but not a thing that could hit them since they stay inside when it rains. Stay inside and don’t drink and don’t walk alone at night and have large dogs and have a black belt in karate, or are male and not in prison….

Is this why there are so many denialists out there? You can read an infinite number of stories on the internet, but if you’re already determined not to see the spectre of rape, it’s easy to dismiss imaginary internet people as liars, sensationalists, and fear-mongers.

It’s harder to dismiss a friend sitting next to you reluctantly telling you in a quiet, calm voice about a terrible, evil thing that colors their past… recounting their feelings and how bits of it still hang over them, changing how they live their lives to this day. It’s harder to dismiss someone as a convenient liar when there’s no public accusation and they’re someone you already love and trust… someone you wish you could help with more than just listening.

—–

I know it’s pretty useless to tell everyone to listen in order to understand, because if people aren’t already telling you their secrets… you might not be the sort of person they’ll ever approach. But if someone you love starts talking, try to hear them out. Their pain may teach you something painful but important about the world, and if they’ve started to tell you it’s probably because they need you to listen.

I’m also not trying to imply anything about how often people are raped based on my own experiences. The things that I learned had more to do with how rape can hurt people and that rape has hurt people I love who aren’t so different from me. There are lots of groups out there collecting statistics if you want a more numerical view of the problem.

March 31, 2013

The Phantom of the Fake Geek Girl: Why do Geek Women Believe in Her?

Filed under: Comics,Costuming,Feminism,Games,Mythos,Programming,Steampunk — Eva @ 11:01 am

The storm of “fake geek girl” articles seems to have abated but in the heat of that I got into an interesting conversation with @koboldstyle I want to write about.

 Why do geek women attack other geek women?

To answer that question, I have to back way up to when you joined a geeky hobby for the first time (sorry, this does presuppose geeks are reading this).

What makes you identify as a geek? Do you love a particular subject like anime, comics, or tabletop RPGs? Have you spent weekends at conventions or reading fan sites? How about long evenings glued to your computer learning the intricacies of a programming language or discovering the possibilities of open source projects for the first time? When did you first realize that particular part of geekdom was a part of you?

When you started out learning about and loving the geeky things you love, did anyone tease you because you were new? Maybe because you didn’t quite know everything yet or got something wrong? Did anyone assume that you weren’t a geek because of how you looked or talked or the username you wore?

Not everyone experiences this kind of hazing when they join a geek community, but a lot of people do. Many parts of the geek community are defined by knowledge and when you’re perceived as not knowing, people can be vicious.

Now imagine the knowledge tests and teasing didn’t stop when you proved your knowledge the first time. Imagine that every time you met new geeks they assumed you were an outsider. So you prove yourself and prove yourself… and prove yourself… and there’s just no end to it. Your old friends understand you, but every time you meet someone new you have to start all over again.

Gentlemen, this feeling is familiar for a lot of geek women. It happens to them, over and over and over. I know you’re thinking, “I would never do that to a fellow geek,” but what if you didn’t see them as a geek to start with? What if they’re “just a girlfriend that tagged along” or “just hanging around because they want to date that one guy”? Are you sure your internal geek-identifier isn’t ignoring people it should give the benefit of the doubt to?

Back to the ladies. You’ve spent your time proving again and again that no, you aren’t “a pretty face trying to snag a boyfriend” and no, you aren’t “a girlfriend who tags along.” Where do these stereotypes come from and why do you have to deal with them? You start to think, are there women out there who are “a girlfriend who tags along”? Did they create that stereotype?

And then you get mad. “What the f**k!,” you think, “Why do I have to deal with the fallout from what those stupid posers do?” “Why can’t they get the hell out of geekdom so I don’t have to deal with this stereotype anymore?!?”

 You’ve walked into a trap. Are there any posers out there? Probably a few. Are there enough of them to justify the stereotypes? Not a chance in hell. But you’ve accepted that the stereotype must be true. If so many people assume it’s true about you, how can it not have a basis in fact, right?

Not all geek women go down that route of logic, but a few do and that’s how we end up in a place where women write articles about how fake-geek-women are ruining geekdom and how the posers should all get out. That’s is how we end up with women devaluing other women based on how they entered hobbies (so what if you’re the girlfriend of a geek? how does that make your interest in something geeky invalid?).

I’m not blaming anyone for believing what they’ve been told over and over. If you’re told anything often enough you’ll believe it. But right now women are accepting second class citizenship in many parts of geekdom. That’s not where I want to be.

Men, don’t do this to geek women in your life. Assume we’re inside the club instead of constantly making us prove ourselves. Women, don’t do this to other women either. Question the things that geekdom tells you about yourself and your gender.

 


 

If you’re wondering what the whole “fake geek girl” kerfuffle is, here’s some reading material.

 

Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away

The Girlfriend and The Geek

 Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be

Confession: I’ve been a girlfriend

“Oh, You Sexy Geek!”: “Geek Girls” and the Problem of Self-Objectification

The Girl Geek Community is Hidden, Ever Wondered Why?

May 16, 2012

Why WotC’s Sexism in Gaming Art Article Made Me Happy

Filed under: D&D,Feminism,Games — Eva @ 12:47 am

WotC recently published a post titled Sexism in Fantasy that’s caused a lot of mixed reactions. I want to talk about why the article, if not it’s content, made me happy.

I see myself as a feminist. I know by putting that out there at the beginning I’m raising a lot of expectations about what I care about, how I react to things, and what I’m likely to defend. I’m also a relatively laid back person, despite some of my blog rants, and I’ve been through a long journey trying to understand sexism and feminism. For me this journey was many small cycles of “not getting it” punctuated by bursts of insight as I incorporated new ideas into my worldview. I grew up in the gaming world and for a long time I was so used to how things are that the roots and implications of the many traditions were invisible to me.

I’ve also watched many of my friends go through various cycles of getting and not getting aspects of sexism, racism, and other -isms. I’m not going to claim to be super enlightened… I mess up on ableism issues all the time… but I’ve reached a point where that cycle is familiar to me.

When I read WotC’s article what I saw was Jon Schindehette going through one of the early cycles of trying to understand sexism. He was “not quite getting it” and honestly if he’s just starting to struggle with these issues, I can’t blame him for not understanding them all at once. I’ve been there and I’ve fallen in the same pitfalls. I wish he had gotten further along before he wrote a public article… but he has my empathy as to why getting there takes time.

Jon tried to approach the problem logically and understand what sexism is and what it’s doing to gaming. He fell short on three fronts. One is that he didn’t do enough research on discussion that’s already taking place in the online community. Blogs like Go Make Me a Sandwich contain lots of resources that include frank discussion of the sort he’s trying to elicit. Tumblrs like Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor include loads of beautiful examples of art that’s attractive and pretty while presenting characters who look like people rather than toys. The fact that Jon didn’t bring up any of these resources makes me suspicious that he didn’t do this kind of research. He tried to start from square one by himself and he suffered for it. It’s a lot easier if you build on the work others have already done. ;)

The second problem Jon ran into was that he got into his logical investigation and backed off when he was starting to get somewhere. The definition of sexism he found, which seems quite reasonable to me, was, “Sexism is defined as having an attitude, condition, or behavior that promotes stereotyping of social roles based upon one’s gender.” That’s a good start. After talking about it for a bit he failed to take the next step and investigate gender roles.

To start understanding how sexism could promote stereotyping, you need to ask: “what gender roles might we be perpetuating?” Wikipedia has a good overview of historical gender roles. However, in the last 30 years, gender roles have changed. The “perfect submissive wife” ideal is not what our societal norms think women should be anymore. Unfortunately, there are still some very damaging gender roles out there for men and women.

One of the ones that hurts women the most is the idea that they must always be physically attractive and sexually available for men. This is sometimes called the Beauty Myth, and it’s the big problem one Jon missed. The Beauty Myth says a woman can be a brilliant rocket scientist, but if she isn’t also pretty, she’s not really worthwhile as a woman and no one will love her.

One of the roles that hurts men the most is the idea that they can only succeed financially and aren’t particularly physically attractive to women. This is also called the Success Myth. This is rather insidious because the Success Myth says that an average man needs to find a high paying job if he wants any hope of attracting a woman. If he suffers setbacks in his career or prefers to do something that is low paying, then he’s worthless and no one will love him.

Here’s a good summary of these two roles and how they hurt us from a male perspective.

The twin roles define a lot of our popular culture and they bleed into our fantasy as well. The Beauty Myth is why people fixate on making female characters beautiful even when “beautiful” crosses the line into impractical and unrealistic. The Success Myth is why we’re still unbelievably stuck on the “guy succeeds and then guy gets the girl” story plot.

Back to Jon… the third thing that I think went wrong for him is that he stumbled into some very basic fallacies talking about an -ism. This is a pretty common mistake and while embarrassing, isn’t all that surprising. Fallacy one is to assume that whatever went before is ok by virtue of being tradition. This was mostly justified by “market forces” in the article. If all tradition was free of -isms life would be sunshine and kittens and I wouldn’t have to write any blog posts in the ‘feminism’ category. :)

More seriously, a lot of people think “feminism happened, sexism is done now, right?” and sadly the answer is no. It takes a long time to change culture and there’s a lot of momentum. That’s not to say we need to flip out and throw all of our traditions out the window tomorrow. We can start by calmly taking a step back and making a few rational changes at a time towards a better, less -ism filled world.

The second fallacy Jon made was while talking about his three images. He got a bit muddy because he couldn’t see the modern roles affecting them and drifted into the “it’s really all opinion, anyway” argument. There is some opinion in everything, I agree. Sadly the existence of a systemic problem in media and in gaming media specifically isn’t really up for debate. It’s been discussed at length by a lot of people, especially authors. You can’t use the fact that some people can’t identify prejudice to justify prejudice not existing at all… that’s downright Paranoia levels of circular logic.

I want to be clear: being a bit blind to sexism doesn’t mean you’re some sort of horrible misogynistic asshole who’s running around saying terrible things all the time, it just means you haven’t quite figured out how to see sexism hidden in the world around you. All of us have been there, you don’t need to be ashamed of it, just do your best to keep an open mind and learn. :)

The final fallacy that Jon fell into was the “a few people complained, but lots of people like it, so everything must be great!” The argument “lots of people agree with me, therefore I’m right!” is not meaningful, especially when you’re talking about -isms. It’s an appeal to base social pressure and has no bearing on the correctness of your argument.

I suppose at this point you’re probably wondering how I’m going to justify the title of this post. Well, to be totally honest, as much as parts of the article irritated me, Jon redeemed himself in my eyes by taking the initiative to write about something as scary as sexism in the first place, making an honest (if flawed) attempt to learn, and asking for our input.

I can remember the first time that I tried to write up a post on a feminist topic. I think my hand was actually shaking when I pressed the “Publish” button. It’s scary putting yourself out there to talk about any issue of prejudice, because we all know our culture is so ready to throw a firestorm back in your face if you get anything “wrong.” I appreciate and respect that Jon was willing to try and that WotC was willing to let him.

When I reached the end of his article I was overjoyed that he openly solicited our feedback and I was presented with a comment box to put my thoughts into. Wow, was I happy. I didn’t even realize how happy I was until I’d spent an hour skimming and “liking” other people’s comments. I wanted a chance to speak to WotC directly and he gave that to me, which I’m deeply grateful for. The number of people who posted ernest, well thought out comments, some with great links to resources, made me feel better about the community. It made me feel like other people believe I belong here. :)

A lot of the commenters were talking to Jon too and most were very civil. Some offered him links to resources (like some of the ones I posted above) and encouragement. I’m hoping he’s taken some of those links and moved forward on his own path to understanding.

So, thank you, Jon, and thank you, WotC. It had some issues, but I appreciated the outreach and the effort that went into it. Please keep learning and write more about sexism and other -isms in gaming in the future. :)

January 15, 2012

GenCon (and Gaming) Belongs to Me Too

Filed under: Angry,D&D,Feminism,Games — Eva @ 11:28 pm

One of the most heartbreaking moments of my life was the GenCon the first year after my wedding. I was starting to truly grok feminism and for the first time I walked the exhibitor’s hall with my husband, Alan, and paid attention to how people treated each of us.

I made eye contact. I smiled. I asked vendors leading questions about their products like I always do. I found that in a minority of the time they treated me as if I knew nothing about gaming even when I said that I played RPGs. I’ve had people do this to me before. I look really young for my age, so I normally don’t mind letting them just assume whatever and go on with their job. The pitch is usually much the same, it just includes more intro and layman’s terms. This time it was different, because I realized that they weren’t making these kinds of assumptions about Alan.

There was one booth we stopped at where Alan was supremely uninterested and I thought the setting looked kind of cool. I picked up a book and skimmed the back, looked up at the nearest guy in the booth (there were three, all male, sitting around not doing anything), smiled, and asked some trivial question about the setting. The booth guy, instead of answering me, literally turned to Alan and answered my question. I was so shocked I just kind of stared at him. Alan was pretty startled as well.

There were other incidents, but that was the worst, the one that stood out above the others. I left that con feeling for the first time in my life like I did not belong. It hurt so much I couldn’t even express it.

When I was a kid GenCon was the one place outside my home where I felt totally accepted. I’ve attended almost every year of my life. I literally said my first words in a GenCon. Now it felt like the con had rejected me.

Soon I got angry. The man in that booth, he was probably half again as old as me. The chances are I’ve been to more GenCons than he has. I’ve been playing video and board games since before I started pre-school. The chances are I may have been gaming as long as or longer than he has. Fuck him. Fuck him and fuck his sexism.

GenCon doesn’t belong to just him. It belongs to all the gamers and geeks who attend. I attend and it belongs to me too. I sure as hell want the other people who attend to be less sexist, but even if they aren’t, I belong there and it’s also mine.

I’m not going to let prejudice drive me away from a hobby that I love.

December 7, 2011

Baby It’s Cold Outside: Or How an Idealized Story Can Train You to Commit Rape

Filed under: Angry,Feminism,Reviews — Eva @ 11:53 pm

I was linked today to this defense of the song Baby It’s Cold Outside by feminist Slay Belle. It’s a well thought out article and if you’ve got the patience to read a few pages go look at it now. If not, the summary is, people have been complaining about one line in the song and Slay Belle thinks that’s silly. She sees the song as a story about how the female lead is being held back by society’s expectations (ie. disapproval of “good” women having sex) and the male lead is giving her the excuses (encouragement to stay, reasons not to leave, etc.) she needs to make the choice to have and enjoy sex. Unfortunately the author has utterly missed the part where this story trains people to commit rape.

The song Baby It’s Cold Outside is creating a myth, a sort of idealized view of a romantic relationship. In this particular myth we’re told the girl resists the boy’s advances, saying no, possibly giving excuses of several sorts, but since the boy is persistent, the girl gives in and they’re happy. The important thing is, she gives in because she really does want to, she’s just worried about what people will say, so she needs to “put up a good fight”.

If a man buys into that pattern of romance, he really should badger and push his girlfriend for sex over and over, no matter how much she says no. Because she wants to have sex underneath, she just can’t admit it, or she won’t be a “good girl.” Now her boyfriend can’t tell sincere no’s from “coy” no’s and may be coercing her into sex (which incidentally is rape). Still he may honestly believe that she doesn’t mean what she says because he’s been taught this false model of how women act by popular culture.

This is the problem that I have with Baby It’s Cold Outside. “You should pressure her because she really does want to, even when she says no” is not a message I find acceptable. No means no and yes means yes. Teaching people that they’re interchangeable if you push is a nasty slippery slope. That slope is exactly where popular culture was standing when Baby It’s Cold Outside was written in 1936.

November 19, 2010

Dear Mediamum

Filed under: Angry,Feminism — Eva @ 8:57 pm

Dear Mediamum,

I recently read your post about why tech women should “stop whining and nurture their own“. As a woman in tech who spends some of her time writing about feminism, I wanted to write back to you.

I’m not responsible for being the change that you want to see. Each of us has different career goals and desires. There’s no one path that all tech women should follow to promote the cause of having more women in technology. Also, calling my writing “whining” is not what I would call “nurturing”. Even if you don’t respect my path, I would appreciate less name calling.

Everyone experiences discrimination differently. Your experience is not representative of every other woman in a tech job. There are many tech jobs that rarely if ever involve glamorous things like conferences. The world needs women at the IT support desk as much as it needs women at conferences and female CTOs.

Your privilege is showing a bit. You might want to tuck that back in before you embarrass yourself further.

Sincerely,
Eva

P.S. I agree with Gina Minks, you need to mind your language in the future.

October 12, 2010

What does Bechdel really mean?

Filed under: Angry,Books,Comics,Feminism — Eva @ 11:43 am

A friend of mine recently posted a rant about how the Bechdel Test was BS. She pointed out that there’s no reason women shouldn’t be allowed to talk about men in movies. It can be a topic that develops their characters and has a valid place in moving the story forward. She thought it was stupid that female characters had to stop talking about men to pass the test. This is my response.

The Bechdel Test is not about women talking about men. It’s about women talking about nothing, but men. So long as they also have a conversation about something else they pass.

For a long time the test really annoyed me too. I mean really, really annoyed me. Once I knew about it, it was often in the back of my mind when looking at other things like books and comics. Several works that I really loved didn’t pass it and one that I adore passed like 10 pages from the end. The whole thing made me wildly unhappy because it seemed so arbitrary.

Then I started looking at it the other way around. What do male characters talk about when they’re alone? They talk about women sometimes (it depends on the story how much). They also talk about all sorts of other things: the weather, the road to X city, where the suspect lives, how to recover the data from this damaged computer, the list is endless. Most male characters have a neutral role in plots that lets them deal with all sorts of things that are not cross-gender relationships. Even male characters who are immersed in romantic plots, often have some other goal they’re pursuing during the story.

Then I thought, well, there weren’t that many women in X or Y so I can see why they never “got around” to having neutral conversations. It didn’t seem wrong at the time that there weren’t more women in there. But, isn’t everything that happens in this story something the author chose to happen? Why did the neutral roles need to go to male characters?

So I went back and started examining the roles the male characters took. The number of those roles that had no link to gender, that could have been changed with nothing but different pronouns, absolutely appalled me. I was forced to wonder, why weren’t women cast into some of those roles? Why didn’t I find it strange that women weren’t cast into any of those roles? What has my culture made me blind to?

In the real world, women do all sorts of things, many of them practical normal things, not related to how we deal with relationships (with men or women). I don’t spend my day chatting about my husband. I write software, read email, learn new programming languages… if you wrote my story, would I just be replaced with a male character unless I needed to be a romantic foil? Why? What’s the point of not letting women also do normal things in stories?

The conclusion I came to was, the Bechdel Test is not about men. It’s about clearly highlighting a lack of women. It’s about token women in only romantic roles and constantly casting neutral characters as men, when there’s no reason they need to be.

At it’s core it’s about seeing women as nothing beyond partners for men. We fill no other role in many stories and that’s really sad. I have no problems with having characters (of either gender) in a story for purely romantic reasons. There should also be characters of both genders that move beyond that role and the gender balance shouldn’t be the mess that it is now.

I struggled with this revelation. I know it sounds stupid simple, but when you’re reading or watching an actual story, there seems like there’s always a plausible reason for the characters to be the way they are: the order of sword-mages is all male, well he’s a janitor, it’s just one more hacker guy, this scene is handled by the romantic male lead. I forced myself to remember that each of those reasons is a choice the creator made. They could make different choices and often the work would be just as compelling. The order could be mixed gender or all female, janitors and hackers can be women, and there’s no reason why the female romantic lead couldn’t push that part of the plot forward instead.

Everything in fiction is the way it is because someone made it that way. They can choose to make it a different way. Despite what some high-muckety mucks think, having more female characters won’t drive audiences away. Having more women in the world certainly doesn’t make men hide in underground bunkers.

If you want a view of this from a different angle, I’d highly recommend Katie’s article on the Reverse Jane Austin Principal. It captures part of the phenomenon of “rewriting stories to include romance” and it’s alarmingly apt.

August 19, 2010

The Response of Penny Arcade to Criticism

Filed under: Comics,Feminism,Games — Eva @ 1:19 am

(Trigger warning: There are triggers throughout this post and in many of the linked pages.)

There’s a whole firestorm going on across the blogosphere about this Penny Arcade comic. If by some chance you haven’t heard about it, there are a number of interesting pieces covering it. The PA guys have made two responses: one comic and some blog posts.

There are a bunch of factors colliding here and that various people are upset for various reasons. It’s really sad that the PA folks have chosen the path of responses that they have. They’re good people who have done good things for the world. They set up Child’s Play, an awesome charity that has encouraged people to donate to children’s hospitals all over the world. They created Pax, which I’ve heard touted as one of the most female friendly cons around.

I can see the argument that the internet is vast and that free speech protects dark humor, even morally. I respect that they have a right to create things that I may not like. I still think they responded poorly. It is possible to explain yourself while still apologizing, acknowledging the issues you inadvertently tread on, and treating others’ concerns with respect.

While I fully support their right to free speech, which includes the right to saying things other people find offensive or distasteful, other people also have the right to criticize them. Freedom of speech is a two way road and we don’t have to be assholes about it in either direction. We can have different opinions, different interpretations, and hold different issues as more or less important without being dismissive or rude.

The part that makes me really sad is, PA don’t seem to understand the insidiousness of how they’ve casually dismissed the criticism. It implies that they don’t see a deeper issue. It is just a joke to them and the “complainers” are silly to suggest the whole topic should be treated any more seriously.

There are several problems with this. One is that casually dismissing criticism with hyperbole is a common technique used to silence feminists. Think along the lines of “What are you getting upset about? This is no big deal, stop being so hysterical.” This means that the way they’ve approached the criticism resonates even more painfully with the people they’re addressing. This was a bad call on their part. It will only hurt and alienate more people. As one of my friends put it, it makes the original comic look a lot worse.

Looking at actual content, the idea that a slave might be raped is not a new one. But for many people in America, that idea is so far removed from modern reality that it only exists in fantasy books and video games. They may know in the abstract that there’s slave trading in the modern world or that there are people who are forced into prostitution against their will, but it’s not part of their reality. It has no actual impact on their instincts or fears. They see no real threat that it could happen to them or to anyone they love.

I would urge you to go take a look at the story that started Love146, a charity that is working to end child sexual slavery. I think it’s important that the issue is real to you. It’s less important that it changes how you think about the PA comic, and more important you have a gut understanding that real slaves are being raped.

As I see it the problem now becomes, people read the joke in the comic and if they lack that gut understanding, the joke will further distance them from seeing the rape of a slave as reality. The over-the-top humor relegates the act and the situation even further to that world of fantasy and fiction. It makes the victim of the crime even more of a faceless, theoretical person who exists only in jokes and video games.

If there isn’t a systemic problem, a joke like this isn’t a big deal. In the case of rape, there is a systemic problem in our culture. One tiny chip at a time, jokes start to slowly turn people into that hero who walks away, because they don’t believe the crime is happening (or could happen) to a real person.

Yes, I’m being a little over-dramatic here. But no, I’m not kidding. I don’t think PA committed some sort of mortal sin with their original strip. I mostly thought it was a kind of tasteless joke when I first read it. They made things much worse by dismissing the whole issue so quickly and crudely.

Like I said before, I respect PA’s right to say what they want in their comic. It’s a shame they aren’t taking the issues behind the criticism of their work more seriously. There is a lot that could be learned and a lot of good that could be done.

May 29, 2010

Game Review: Puzzle Bots

Filed under: Feminism,Games,Reviews — Eva @ 12:43 am

I play a lot of adventure games. I’ve played the majority of the old Lucas Arts games and all of the new Telltale games. It’s not a very popular genre, so my husband and I are constantly on the lookout for for games by smaller studios that show promise.

Last year I ran across Wadjet Eye Games’ Emerald City Confidential. I took a chance on it and quite enjoyed it. My husband and I then played through the three Blackwell games and the Shivah. They varied a lot in quality, but were definitely worth playing overall.

Wadjet is a young (and very small) company and playing their older games gave me a feeling for how much they’ve learned and improved over the years. I’ve been looking forward to their newest game, Puzzle Bots, since I heard about it last year. I finally got a chance to play the game last week.

The main game play element that Puzzle Bots adds to the standard adventure game is the use of tiny robots who manipulate the environment in different ways. There are five robots that you get to play with throughout the game and each basically corresponds to a different verb. Every new bots is introduced with a set of training rooms, meant to give you an idea of what their unique talents will be able to handle. Together, several bots can take on more complex problems.

The individual puzzles were self contained, which was also a nice change from the crazy fetch quests which pervade most adventure games. The bots generally work on sets of puzzles in a “one room” setup and once they’ve solved the area they’ll move on to a different situation or location. There are often cut scenes between the puzzle rooms where the human characters go about advancing the main plot of the game. I generally found these cut scenes interesting to watch, but not super related to what my bots were doing. The scenes gave the impression of an unfolding mystery that the bots were somewhat aware of.

I had some issues with the themes of the human characters and some of their actions and plot elements. I was not amused to discover that both of the female members of the five person team were romantically interested in the forgetful and not terribly smart “American White Male” inventor. I understand when Hollywood goes all Reverse Jane Austin on stories, but this seems really unnecessary from a small studio. This is just a lazy way of writing characters and plots. I know they can do better.

Unfortunately, this was not the only thing about the human characters that constantly irritated me. One of the female inventors was Asian, and just happened to be from Japan. Good gravy, do people think every Asian woman comes from that island? I love Japan as much as the next woman, but has no one ever heard of Korea or China or Vietnam or Thailand or any of a half dozen other Asian countries? Anyhow, this Japanese inventor was naturally very smart, soft spoken, and shy. And spoke in perfect, unaccented English.

Despite all this ridiculousness she manages to be the most sympathetic person in the game… except when she’s whining about men. Then I wanted to hit her designer over the head with something heavy, perhaps a book on feminism.

The second woman on the team was “Sexy Punk Grrl,” complete with bright pink hair, a short skirt, and a penchant for exploding things. Since she was the “bad girl” she was also way louder, pushier, and sexually aggressive. I just about wanted to bang my head on the desk when she introduced her robot and it was zipping around on roller skates. I get that we’re building towards a theme here, but this was a bit much. You can love roller derby without being a ridiculous stereotype.

The other two members of the team consist of “Generic Black Dude” (he is generically amusing, but has very little part in the plot) and “Angry Russian Man who is trying to get fired” (he was also amusing and rarely important). I got the impression that these two were intended to be background color and excuses for their robot designs. I’d say four stars for multiethnic casting, one star for which roles actually went to the characters who didn’t sound or look like Midwestern Americans.

I would also like to take a brief moment to say, if you are only going to have one person in your cast who is significantly chubbier than average, please don’t make them the villain of your story. This is just a laughable level of prejudice. “Let’s assume ‘ugly’ people are evil and treat them like crap” wasn’t funny 10 years ago and it isn’t funny now.

I may sound like I’m being a bit particular about the characters and the romantic sub plots. This is partly because they were just so cartoonish that they grated on my nerves. I didn’t feel like a lot of these extremes were really necessary. It’s possible to make relatively light, shallow characters without falling back on these sorts of pastiche images that mainstream culture is always shoving in our faces. I felt like the casting, as well as parts of the plot, were lazy and ill-considered; it rubbed me the wrong way.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things to like about Puzzle Bots. The interface is clean, the art is beautiful, the puzzles are intuitive, and the hint system has just the right level of clue vs clue-bat. I enjoyed almost all of the puzzles and I think the idea of using the robots’ different talents in the place of traditional verbs is really cool. I do think the game was a bit short, based on the price, but I understand that as a small studio Wadjet’s economic model may not reflect my normal expectations.

I enjoyed the game and I would recommend it to others. It is a little bit expensive, not excessively so. I think it would make a good introductory adventure game, especially for slightly younger audiences. I wish that the creators had taken a different tactic when building their characters and plots, but I suspect that for most people these stereotypes are so deeply ingrained that they won’t really detract from the experience.

I’ll keep my eyes open and look forward to seeing what Wadjet has to offer in the future.

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